Your Runway of Life

Your life runs by in a hurry. In three acts, you were born, you mature, and you’ll die. Beginning, middle, and end. Classic story structure, and what really counts is what you do on your runway of life. Especially with the time you have left.

A few things brought on this post.

One—my brother recently passed away. He was sixty-nine, and there was no warning. It was a brain aneurysm which is a pre-existing condition that’s nearly impossible to detect or intervene with.

Two—I turned sixty-six yesterday. That milestone, along with my brother’s sudden death, made me reflect on what time I have left. The events put into perspective an urgency I have in continuing important tasks.

Three—I received a newsletter from Dr. Peter Legge where he outlined the Runway of Life. In a three-minute video, Dr. Legge gave me an “ah-ha” moment. I’d like to pass it along to my friends at the Kill Zone.

Peter Legge is a well-known force in Vancouver. He’s a highly accomplished entrepreneur, author, speaker, publicist, and community leader. Dr. Legge is also a motivator and personal mentor to many folks, regulars and high achievers.

The Runway of Life is a concept. It’s an abstract, yet crystal clear, look at where you’ve come from, where you are, and where you’ll end. Not when you’ll end—that’s something we don’t know so, for this exercise, we’ll make up a number.

In the video, Dr. Legge draws a horizontal line in black ink on a white background. The line represents your runway of life—your life’s timeline. On the left, he draws a zero. This represents the day you were born.

Somewhere along, he draws a figure for his age. Dr. Legge is currently eighty, so he dots an 8-0. This shows since birth to today he’s gone 80 points on his runway of life.

His final figure is hypothetical because there’s no way he, or anyone else, can know the age he’ll die at. Dr. Legge qualifies that and says for this exercise the death number doesn’t matter. “It could be eighty. It could be a hundred. But for this demonstration I’ll put down ninety.”

So, Dr. Legge jots 9-0 at the right side of his runway. Clearly, he’s used up 80 years of his life’s runway, and he expects to have 10 years left.

“Zero to eighty are gone. They’re history and they’re past.” Not so with the remaining ten still on the runway. It’s what you do with the remaining time on your runway of life that now matters.

I drew a runway of life for myself. I started at zero like everyone else. I have sixty-six around three-quarters to the right. And I picked ninety as my cash-out number. I base that life expectancy on my genealogy which has had some pretty old birds in the family tree.

I realize my brother’s last number was only sixty-nine. However, there’s a big medical difference between my brother and me. He was a heavy smoker, and I’ve never touched the stuff. Cigarette smoke is the most significant modifiable risk for cerebral aneurysm. Heart attack / myocardial infarct as well.

My runway of life looks like this:

I’ve used 66 years which is 792 months, 23,760 days, and 570,240 hours. If my calculator is right, I have 24 years left on my runway of life—288 months, 8,640 days, and 207,360 hours.

It’s what I do with those remaining years, months, days, and hours that count going forward. I have no idea what the right, right number is on my runway of life. It could be a lot lower. So, I’m moving ahead making every day matter.

I’m doing two primary things. One is keep creating content, and keep learning how to do it, for the entertainment industry (aka being a writer). The other is enjoying time with my family and friends, especially out on our boat.

And if I blend the best of both worlds, like I’m doing right now, I’ll write and learn from the chart table in my wheelhouse till I’m buried at sea by my family and friends, hopefully well past one hundred.

Kill Zoners — Have you given any thought to your runway of life? Care to share an urgency?

38 thoughts on “Your Runway of Life

  1. Garry…I’m so sorry for your loss. Prayers for you and your family.

    I just hit 71 (or did it hit me?) last month so I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what’s in front of the windshield. My cash-out number (interesting term) is 80. So…nine years or so sounds depressing. I calculated the number of days instead. 3285 more days on this side of the topsoil sounds great. I can get quite a bit done in that amount of time, so long as I don’t step in front of a bus or something.

    Thanks for the informative post on a painful post tempered by your tragic news. I had a doctor tell me a few decades ago that there are three things that will kill you: smoking, drinking, and obesity. You can get away with doing one of them, so long as isn’t smoking.

    Have a great weekend, Garry.

    • Good morning, Joe, and thanks for your prayers. I’m a glass near full guy and I look at what you can get done in 3285 days – 3285 words per day is doable (but not every day) so there’s a lot of content left in you.

      I like the saying “sitting is the new smoking” which is why it’s not wise to leave a sedentary life – a break from the computer of 15 minutes per hour works for me. I don’t smoke and I’m not overweight but I do like Scotch and wine. Maybe too much…

      Just an observation from my coroner days. I saw a pattern of death where people dropping dead in their 50s and 60s were usually overweight smokers and drinkers. By 70s they were still smokers and drinkers but not as heavy. In the 80s they thinned out even more and I rarely encountered anyone over 90 who was heavy never mind a smoker. Moderate drinker? Some at 100 still sipped Scotch and enjoyed a glass of wine .

  2. Garry, I’m sorry about your brother. Sudden unexpected death is a shock. But, having watched loved ones linger for years with cancer, I’d choose your brother’s way–not that I have any say in the matter.

    That sure made your birthday a bittersweet event. Hope you enjoyed time on your boat.

    The saddest part of getting older is the dwindling number of family and friends left. Some years ago, I made a conscious decision to put dear ones ahead of other pressing activities. If a friend says let’s go to lunch, I drop what I’m doing and go. I’m not too busy to take a phone call or answer an email from someone I care about. Sometimes it seems inconvenient but it could also be the last time I ever talk to them.

    • Thanks for the condolences, Debbie. It’s not why I wrote this piece – it was more on reflecting on life’s shortness and the value of what’s important like connecting with friends and family. Recently, I read “On The Shortness Of Life” by the Stoic Lucius Seneca. It was before my brother’s passing, and it made me sit back and think I should give him a call. I didn’t get around to it.

  3. Definitely given this some thought, Garry. I even have a picture in my mind. It’s of the 100-year-old Herman Wouk, the great novelist, who published a new book on his centenary. And he is saying, “Go for it.”

    • Hi Jim – Wow – Mr. Wouk was still writing at 100. That gives a whole new meaning to “go for it”. I think I’ll add another 10 to my hypothetical runway.

  4. Yes sir. That’s exactly why I write fiction the way I do, and why I will have written at least my 70th novel before my 70th birthday in a month or so. I don’t have a cash-out age, but I hope to surpass 82 (that genealogy thing at work). I would like very much to have written 200 novels (total) before that.

    Check the math: 130 novels in 12 years = 11 novels per year = 60,000 words per month (with one month off, as if) = 2000 words per day (2 hours of “work”). Not a bad way to make a living. (grin)

      • Hey Garry, In my spare time I do things I enjoy, of course. Like writing. 🙂 But seriously, I write only three to four hours per day, depending on what else is going on, in one-hour sessions. I start each session by reading over what I wrote in the previous session and allowing my characters to touch it as I read. When I’ve finished I send it to my first reader (an avid reader, but not a writer) for whatever wrong words or inconsistencies pop out at him. I make the corrections I agree with, then publish it and start the next story.

        I think most writers write at about 1000 words per hour. That’s a blazing fast 🙂 17 words per minute. That’s why the math works. So a 60,000 word novel takes about 60 hours to write. Whether I spread that 60 hours over 2 weeks or a month or a year is up to me. Some folks lose time in second-guessing. I don’t do that. I’m not trying for The Great American Novel. I just enjoy telling stories.

        There I go getting long-winded again. Sorry. 🙂

        • We’re on the same song sheet, Harvey. My writing capacity is the same – 1K wph and about 3 hrs per day. My reading to writing ratio is about 2:1 and I have to say I find reading mush easier than writing. I could live in a rabbit hole.

          • For me the pleasure derived from reading and writing are about the same, with the advantage going slightly to writing because I know I’m the very first human ever to witness the story my characters are living.

            For me, writing is easy, and probably the most fun thing I do. But I’m just writing down what happens, the characters’ reactions, and what they say as they race through the story. That’s me in the back, trying to keep up. 🙂

  5. I’m sorry for the loss of your brother. I know how you feel–I lost my baby brother at 31 from the same thing (he’d also been dealing w/kidney disease).

    In my mid-fifties, believe me, I’m already thinking about these things. My family doesn’t have a long shelf life so I would guess the runway will end by 80, but of course, that’s up to God and not me. However, I also saw one parent go through years being bed-ridden so I’m with Debbie, when I go, I want to go quickly–I don’t care how old I am.

    As you mentioned, & Debbie also in the comments, it causes me to put conversations with friends and family first because I’ve learned well that you never know when the next time could be the last time.

    Creativity and life is so tricky and I wrestle with that constantly, middle-aged or not. Writing is only ONE of my creative interests. Besides writing fiction/non-fiction, I also want to learn to play bluegrass banjo, become proficient in acrylic painting and drawing in charcoal, create a bunch of projects in leather, learn woodworking, learn clogging, etc. Plus I would like somehow to be involved in helping train people to increase their chances of having mobility for life.

    One of the reasons my writing stays stalled in terms of “finished” projects is because of all those competing interests & bouncing from one thing to the other. But your post is timely & I’ve been thinking I need to just give up on the bulk of these and focus on the one thing I have invested learning time in more than any other–writing. But it’s so hard because I wanna do it all! 😎

    We will all have regrets when the time comes, but I hope for all of us that they will be as few as possible.

    • There’s so, so much to do in life, Brenda. Woodworking – check. But playing the banjo? I can hardly play the radio. However, I’ve ticked off a lot of boxes over the years and have no regrets. I’ve got the boating thing down pat but I don’t know if I’ll ever master writing. Is that even possible?

  6. Sorry for your loss, Garry. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. My mother passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 96, and even though it wasn’t a surprise, it still hits hard. I’m 75. Right now, I’m on a 4-day photography workshop in Santa Fe and Taos. Exercising my creativity is on my runway, which I’ve decided includes more than writing, although I’ll continue to produce books. I’ve also decided to take a major bucket list trip once a year.

    • Thank you, Terry. And I’m sorry to hear you recently lost your mother. 96 is a major milestone though and reaching that runway end is impressive – however hard when it comes. My philosophy at this life stage is trying to get it all in one shopping cart, Maybe I should condense it to one bucket.

  7. Good morning, Garry. First of all, I’m sorry for your loss. And second, Happy Birthday.

    Yes, I give a lot of thought to my runway of life. In terms of the days and hours remaining here in this life, I call it “Leaving a Legacy.” I wish to leave behind books for my grandchildren that will be a good influence on how they choose to live their lives. If it helps them to remember their old grandfather, that makes me smile.

    We don’t discuss religion and politics on this blog, but I will say simply, that for those of us with faith, the runway is also a runway for take-off into the great blue yonder of eternity. And, in addition to counting the length of the runway, we’re checking our vehicle and our speed to make certain we are ready for lift off.

    Have a productive 207,360 hours, and hopefully many more.

    • Thanks for the condolences and HBD wish, Steve. Leaving a legacy is one of the most honorable things a person can do. If you can continue to impact those existing after your physical death then I believe you’ve achieved immortality.

  8. Maybe I spend too much time on the runway of life. I did go to airplane school so how much runway you have left is kind of important. Going to airplane school also means about a dozen classmates and fellow alums have died in aircraft accidents. The anniversary of one of those crashes was last week.

    Yesterday should have been a high school classmate’s 60th birthday. Should have accept for the auto accident in 1981. What could have been is a different post.

    I became a father at 40. I love being an older dad. I don’t get called their grandfather anymore. But I realize that I probably won’t be a grandfather. There just isn’t that much runway left.

    • I’m a wanna-be pilot, Alan. However, I went the boat route instead which has an infinite runway @360 degrees on the saltwater. Except that the marine runway can get pretty rough at times. Happy older fathering and enjoy every hour you have left.

  9. Sorry for you loss Gary, 69 seems young. I recently did a business plan for my writer writer life. What is my long term goal, what’s happening in the next 6 months and what are my tactics to help me get there? My line starts with 0 and I’m predicting it will end at 103 as I’ve never smoked and have longevity genes. I’m releasing 4 books a year and I figure by the time of die I’ll leave a legacy of 200 books. I’m 21 books on my way there. My runway may get cut short, but otherwise I’m working my way to 5 books a year for my remaining 40 years. I guess I’m trying to be James Bell’s Herman Wouk.

    • Thank you, Alec. You have an ambitious plan but totally doable if you put your mind to it. I recite Napoleon Hill’s line every day – Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve – with positive mental attitude.

  10. Garry, I’m very sorry for the loss of your brother. Like Debbie noted, I don’t know which is worse, sudden death or a long, lingering one. My mother had an aneurysm when she was 49 that nearly killed her. Her heart condition caused her death two years later. She, too, had been a heavy smoker for much of her life. My father died of pulmonary fibrosis at 73, probably caused by his working conditions, aggravated smoking and multiple bouts of pneumonia.

    I’ve never smoked and all the actuarial tables put my runway ending at 95, given my own health. My mother’s parents both lived to nearly 90 and neither smoked. So figure 90 for me.

    I have urgency around my writing. Like you, I want to put out a lot of content. It wasn’t until I was in my late forties that I really double-down on my writing and began working harder. It wasn’t until I was 55 that I published my first novel. I’m 61 now. I published my ninth book last month, a science fiction and fantasy story collection, a retrospect on my short story publications in that genre, and a tribute to my late friend K.C. Ball, who was my first editor and became both a dear friend and a collaborator.

    My urgency now comes in wanting write mystery novels, and lots of them, as well as mystery short stories, and possibility non-fiction, and connect with readers. My other urgency is to also continue to spend time with friends and family.

    Thanks for a very important post.

    • Good morning, Dale. It’s still morning in my world although I had to wait for an internet connection. We’re on the same runway mark – I was 55 when I published my first book and I’m somewhere around 20 now, depending on what defines a book. Recently, I broke into film content producing which is a whole new realm – kinda like starting over but very invigorating.

      Thanks for your condolences. I think it’s better to drop off fast rather than slowly linger to death. My wife’s brother recently passed away from cancer and it was a long-drawn event. I’ll choose my brother’s exit – though I hope it’s not till the 90+ mark.

      Enjoy your day, my friend!

  11. I’m sorry for your loss, Garry. Losing a loved one, especially a close family member, is a shock.

    I liked Dr. Legge’s video. When I was taking flying lessons, one of the first things I learned was “Don’t worry about the runway behind you.” That’s a good life lesson, and I think that’s what Dr. Legge was getting at. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t obsess over them. Think about how you can best use the runway in front of you.

    Here’s to a long life for all TKZers.

    • Thanks, Kay. In an earlier comment I mentioned I was a wanna-be pilot. Not sure if the real thing is in the cards at this stage but several days ago I was playing with a flight simulator and flying an F-18. The instructor made a runway comment where I was told the airplane had a forward center of gravity and I had to help it fly by rotating the nose 7 degrees at V1 or it would never leave the runway on its own. Doing so, at V2 it would naturally lift and, at that point, the runway was no longer a factor.

      It made me equate that to writing life. Is V1 where we start to take off and V2 where we fly and everything on the writing runway before that was just a pre-flight check and taxi?

  12. Happy birthday, Garry, and so sorry for your loss.

    We recently lost my brother-in-law. He was the first in our circle of brothers and sisters to go.

    My sister and I recently had lunch together along with my niece and great-niece. I want more times like that. I want less time at the office and more time for writing and theatre. Being back on stage is like coming home but I also want to see what I can do with my writing.

    I’m not putting an end time on it as I plan to go til I drop, but I’d like to at least make enough from my writing to replace my corporate job.

    I want to see what I can do with my writing. To that end, I’m taking classes, going (virtually) to conferences, finishing my works in progress. Putting my energy where my pen and my ❤️ are. I’m encouraged in that people who are doing this for a living and have recently read my work are saying “What’s taking you so long?Jump in.”

    I’m hoping that the God who gave me the talent will also give me the time.

  13. While for me, going like your brother would be a great way to go, the suddenness of it is hard on the family. And so close to your birthday.

    I’m in JSB’s camp—100 and still writing! My mom lived to be 94 so maybe it’s doable.

    • My brother died in his sleep which is about as good an end as one can get. I think the longevity recipe (genetics permitting) is don’t smoke, be active – physically and mentally – keep the weight under control, and have the occasional wee dram. Enjoy your journey, Patricia!

  14. My sympathy on your brother. Losing siblings sucks.

    But Happy Birthday to you!

    I’ll be seventy in a few months. I have the will and the various powers of attorney written, and the finances are as stable as they can be in this crap economy. I keep my executor in the loop, and I’m trying to deal with the various complex stuff in my life so they will not be so complex when I die. I lost my dad to cancer in his sixties, but both sides of the family lived into their mid-nineties so I may have lots of time left. By choice, my writing and teaching careers are in my rearview mirror, but I stay active with my writing blog and various projects as well as a large home and five acres to maintain.

  15. Sorry to hear about your brother.

    Mortality is overrated and I am bored with the idea.

    Billy Shakespeare had something to say about the seven ages of man in “As You Like It” I will not spam the board with it but it is here in sober reflection.

    I turned 74 this year and much of my life is in my rear view mirror, although I do come from hardy stock and I left most of my bad habits behind many years ago.

    Those bad habits put my sister and my father in the ground. I am passing glad I never acquired a taste for the sauce or the Native American’s payback, tobacco. Quit that forty years ago.

    I wish I’d gotten started earlier with this home brew MFA in a can writing business, and TKZ is where I go to school most days. I’m hoping for a good snowstorm so I can stay in the cabin and get some credible writing done.

    Here in the midwest I’m in the middle of getting mi ranchito ready for winter, yard work, fixing my truck before the freeze and between that and fixing as many guitar amplifiers as I can to augment the social security, it is problematic to block out a couple of hours to sit and be quiet and let JSB’s boys in the basement start talking to me.

    I have an idea I might open up the basement door for a few hours and see what they’re saying.

    • Ah, “All the world’s a stage.” I just read and then reread the piece. Thanks, Robert. I think our job as writers is to bring the boys from the basement and put them on the stage.

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